“We want to clarify for everybody that this is not a homosexuality issue for us, this is an authority of scripture/interpretation of scripture/orthodoxy issue for us.” That’s what Anthem Friends Church said last week as they withdrew from Northwest Yearly Meeting.

Their exit helps clarify, for me, the stakes involved in how we read and regard the Bible.

The church letter added, “We have come to find over the years that Anthem Friends (formerly Hayden Lake Friends Church) see things very differently than the NWYM.” How so? What’s the authority of scripture issue that leads Anthem Friends to say they “see things differently?”

In their statement of faith (is this a creed?) Anthem Friends (a large church in Hayden, Idaho, with a second location in Coeur d’Alene) says “We believe the Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments are completely without error and are the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life.”

This is Northwest Yearly Meeting from which they withdrew: not an FGC Yearly Meeting, and not an FUM Yearly Meeting, but rather a yearly meeting that is part of Evangelical Friends Church International, which includes five Yearly Meetings in North America (Alaska YM, Eastern Region YM, Mid-America YM, Rocky Mountain YM, and Southwest YM), and many more around the world (140,000 members in 24 countries, says EFCI’s website).

Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church (NWYM) has a banner on its website saying “it is a covenantal community of evangelical Friends churches that make Jesus Christ known by teaching and obeying the whole gospel as revealed by the Holy Spirit and recorded in Scripture.” Apparently that was not good enough for Anthem Friends.

Not good enough as assertion or not good enough in practice? I only know what Anthem says in their letter, but presumably it arises from an unfolding and unresolved controversy in NWYM. This past July, the Elders of NWYM released a letter that begins “Recognizing that our yearly meeting is unable to embrace our current diversity, and recognizing the shattering that is ensuing, with grace and charity we sorrowfully release West Hills Friends Church from NWYM membership.” The “shattering” issue was West Hills’ “affirmation of committed same sex relationships and the decision to perform those weddings.”

The Elders’ letter noted that there was an appeal process regarding their decision, and, to date, eight Meetings/Churches have filed appeals. Eight others have written letters supporting the Elders decision. You can read them all here, and my hat is off to NWYM for providing public access to all this material.

The Elders’ letter acknowledges “We recognize that as a yearly meeting, we are not in consensus over our statement on human sexuality in the Faith and Practice. We recognize that we need to do the hard work of theological reflection as Friends on the issues of revelation (including the authority of both the written and living Word of God) and human sexuality (in a broader sense than just LGBTQ issues).” The appeal letters also lift up the lack of consensus over sexuality matters, which has been manifest in NWYM for several years.

I take it, then, that Anthem Friends Church has withdrawn from NWYM not because of “a homosexuality issue” but because the Yearly Meeting couldn’t clearly and decisively affirm the [alleged] teaching in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. Disunity, for them, was a cause for separation. (For the record, I believe the Bible is quite unclear about many matters of sexuality.)

Anthem’s posture is fundamentalist. Their creedal statement is an affirmation of Biblical inerrancy. Again, “We believe the Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments are completely without error and are the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life.”

This is the issue Friends need to confront. The issue is not whether the Bible is valuable. It is not whether the Bible provides “texture and clarity to our understanding of God's will,” as a Friend put it recently in a comment on QuakerQuaker. It certainly does. And of course there are those calling themselves Quaker who want nothing to do with the Bible. That’s their loss in my view. But their posture isn’t the one forcing crises in Yearly Meetings. It is the adherents of Biblical inerrancy who are provoking such crises.

When Indiana Yearly Meeting came apart at the seams a few years ago, the driving issue was Biblical inerrancy. Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) has wrestled with issues of creeds and Biblical inerrancy in recent years. Now we have crises in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) and in Northwest Yearly Meeting both driven by assertions of Biblical inerrancy as a litmus test. Both of these crises have been followed well and closely by Steve Angell and Chuck Fager in Quaker Theology and in Fager’s blog, A Friendly Letter. My hat is off to both Steve and Chuck for reporting on these crises. It is time more Friends paid attention to the challenge of Biblical inerrancy.

Close adherence to the Bible, while valuable, is unlikely to yield final and spiritually satisfying answers to all issues that may arise. Insisting on “the Bible alone” as a source of spiritual guidance will sow further schism and hard-heartedness. Seeing the Bible as “without error” and as “the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life” shouts that God stopped speaking to us a millennium and a half ago. I affirm instead that the God who speaks to me through and beyond the Bible assures me that God is still speaking. The meetings in Northwest Yearly Meeting that are wrestling with human sexuality believe, too, that God is still speaking to them.

On the Bible, I would much rather Friends take guidance (though not as a creed) from Barclay’s Apology in which he says of the Scriptures, after noting the Bible’s value:  

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader. Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule.

Also posted on River View Friend

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Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 14, 2015 at 11:49pm

That's a fascinating segue Forrest, thank you.  

I just read some of van Gulik's anthropology regarding the practice of polygamy in ancient China, thanks to your prompting.


The topic has proved timely in China just recently with the ending of the one-child-per-couple rule. Given the large "surplus" of eligible bachelors vis-a-vis female counterparts, a Chinese economist boldly suggested "wife sharing" i.e. women with multiple husbands, could become an acceptable new social norm among some Chinese.  This proposal naturally sparked much debate in social media, still ongoing.

Example:  https://youtu.be/k_twN8431TA

According to multiple sources, it's no longer true that Chinese couples greatly prefer boys to girls, quite the contrary. Indeed, worldwide, and especially with the obsolescence of outward war, it seems men are more on the defensive these days, when it comes to proving their social worth, prompting this deliberately provocatively entitled Ted Talk:  The End of Men.


Thanks again.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 12:50am

The multiple-husbands thing was done in Tibet, I think -- but that's the only other place I can think of. Hmm, Tibet conquers China by military defeat? Kind of like the way the Nazis seem to have conquered the US by being defeated?

Yeah, I liked the van Gulik stories... liked his a lot more than the one authentic Chinese novel he translated... but maybe the chief point we should think about: These marriage arrangements are adaptations to really screwy economic arrangements.

That is, if everyone were free to pick how many of what they could marry -- You'd probably still see mostly one male one female pairs as the most common outcome. It minimizes the number of human beings you _really_ have to get along with, for one thing... (and I don't know if you've noticed this, but human beings can really be a pain!) Also it should match your population ratio pretty well in normal circumstances.

And it's simple. It keeps us guys from having to worry about who's in charge, yes?

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 12:40pm

The King of Bhutan had three wives when our family was living there (I'd visit for extended periods, one time bringing my own new wife and her stepdaughter -- we had another child later, who currently studies physics and philosophy at Earlham College). 

We heard many stories of rural folk practicing polygamy in the wild (the Himalayas is vast):  a sister would marry two brothers, a brother two sisters, or even two sisters would marry two brothers -- other patterns, though often involving siblings to start with. 

Of course according to our NPYM Faith and Practice, those were not "marriages" at all, nor the Somali Islamic arrangements, as our brand of Quakerism is now consistent with US law, now that US law has caught up and allows same-sex couples (but not triples).  Marriage is defined as a union of two adults not otherwise already closely related.

Burma (not really a country -- but then the veneer of "nation-states" has always been thin) has its share of Buddhist polygamists I've heard.  But they say this practice is "dying out" -- I doubt for benign reasons.  I suspect the invisible hand of "foreign aid" mixed with "missionaries" is still at work -- a deadly combo when it comes to destroying endangered lifestyles.  People from the "developed world" are so sure they have all the answers sometimes. [1]

I'm fine with the notion of statistical norms e.g. a pie chart showing the number of dyads far outnumbering other types of arrangements on a global basis.  However it's tricky if we come in with pre-defined terms like "marriage" i.e. it's a truism that we have mostly dyadic marriages in the US because those are the only ones that count as legal.   I'd say it's the nuclear family model is well nigh 100% therefore, with polygamists seriously "in the closet" (or in compounds), just like gays used to be.

Our local Warm Springs museum (by the Warm Springs N8Vs) talks about how polygamy was natural to them until those Euro-Anglos came along with the missionaries and "Christian" boarding schools.  Their purpose was overtly genocidal:  wipe out these nasty brutish cultures and give them something to be proud of, the Anglo-American way of life.  Obviously, we no longer countenance such behavior among Christians and missionaries are not welcome to practice their favorite brands of imperialism in this day and age, or risk jail time. "Leave your betters alone" is what the Anthropologists say to those old-timer Xtians, still stuck in their self-righteous reflex-conditioning.

Quakers got suckered in to that Boarding School movement for awhile, being as ethnocentric as the rest of 'em, but remained more open to N8Vs thanks to various testimonies.  Of all the Christian groups, Quakers were among the least offensive (the N8Vs themselves would say this -- partly why President Grant put them in charge of a few reservations after the Civil War).

These days, we're among the first to apologize for trying to impose alien practices in such a draconian manner.  If polygamy re-emerges as a recognized lifestyle among N8V populations, Quakers will want to see their Sovereignty respected i.e. US law has its limits, always has. 

The nuclear family may be the most average because easiest, but lets consider the possibility that those who do manage polygamous families are sometimes among the most socially skilled, the most adept at human relationships.  A lot of these families are among us today I would suggest, but they go undetected.  Some of the principals likely work for law firms.

As the Technology Clerk for NPYM, I'm poised to advise on changes to the scheme of our database, should we ever decide to accept our first Somali refugee threesome or whatever.  I'd consider that a proud day for Quakerism.

[1] http://worldgame.blogspot.com/2011/01/economics-of-happiness-movie-...

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 12:48pm

Note:  Alexia was not Dawn's stepdaughter, she was my stepdaughter, though non-custodial.  When Alexia decided she wanted to finish high school living with us rather than her custodial dad, we took the matter to court and found out our conservative (half senile) judge was perturbed that Dawn and I weren't married (yet).  We'd formed a business partnership (filing an IRS 1065) which I always considered fairly binding.  However, given his bias, and the snow storm that postponed the second day of the trial, Dawn and I got married, small ceremony.  We formed a Quaker clearness group as well saying:  "look, for reasons of custody, we'd like to get married quickly, like right now, but we'd always planned on a Quaker wedding, so can we still do that too later, even though we'll be legally married already?"  The Clearness Committee said sure.  So we got married a second time under the care of our meeting, a wedding outdoors in the Rhododendron Garden, on one September 11, 1993 (before that date had so many connotations).  Dawn later died of breast cancer, after we had many good years together.[1]  Even though we lost the custody battle, after all that, Alexia realized she could just move.  She lived with us until she finished high school (and go to go to Bhutan).  She still has good relationships with myself and her biological dad.
[1]  http://worldgame.blogspot.com/2007/03/about-dawn-brief-bio.html

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 1:36pm

As the Technology Clerk for NPYM, I'm poised to advise on changes to the scheme of our database, should we ever decide to accept our first Somali refugee threesome or whatever.  I'd consider that a proud day for Quakerism.

Actually that was overly melodramatic (about being poised to change the schema), because at the NPYM level we don't actually track who is married to who, and Monthly Meetings only track marriages under their care. We do track who shares a household with whom, as in street address, but that's more for purposed of not wasting postage. People share a same address for lots of reasons. Might be a law firm. :-D
Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 4:39pm

Might be woman + husband + her sister -- which might not define their relationship quite the way we'd do it. I can't say that Somali family life here in San Diego has impressed me; the one example I knew was working her butt off for County Social Services taking care of a friend of mine -- who worried considerably about her caretaker, who was almost as physically precarious as herself while her husband kept her endlessly pregnant. There have been better family systems than the USian duplex model, but to please hold the idyllicizing until we know more about how people are actually treating each other within a system?

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 4:50pm

I'll hold the idyllicizing indefinitely as I'm not waiting around for studies to show me what's best.  No one's asking me either.  Humans glom together, patterns occur.

It's not so much about what's best as about "what's happening" (has been, will be..) and maybe rendering a moral judgement is not what's called for in the first or even second instance. 

Just go to the zoo, buy some popcorn (for yourself) and enjoy what goes on, without thinking the Lord Almighty gives a fig for your precious opinion.  Whoever said we have to care "what's best for them".  "Naked apes in a spherical nuthouse going in circles -- who cares?" (something Screwtape might say, C.S. Lewis and all that). :-D

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 5:05pm

relevant to actual topic, from Zalman Schacter-Shalomi: "I want to say something about that inspiration. Some people would feel that if God didn't dictate it, beyt, reysh, aleph... that this would be somehow false.

"But if you begin to see all the nuances that are in that book! the way in which these things match! the way in which you can get insights from taking one sentence from here and another sentence from there, the numerical values that you can stretch from one sentence to another, how exciting it gets to be....

"And when you say, 'Is this a divine Torah?' here's where we run into this problem. It is a divine Torah? If you say it has to be forever, we run into a problem. If you start saying it is a strategy for a certain period of history, it's a different story.

...[editor]: ["gives example of looking to Deuteronomy to answer a question of present day practice... when you build a house and that house has a flat top you must have a guard rail on the roof so that if somebody falls from the roof you will not be guilty of their blood. This situation, while rarely applying directly now, is a paradigm for other situations, perhaps completely new situations, that do exist.... to see that the safety of others is not compromised."]

"In other words, the precedent for the application for my life situation, if I look enough, with open eyes, with an understanding that is not hard but pliable, if I see the text organic rather than a strait-jacket, what keeps coming is instruction, instruction, instruction. It may not tell you what to do in the 21st Century, but what you need to do in the 21st Century, the thread of that, can be picked up and applied.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 6:13pm

Getting back on topic...

What many Quakers are working on today, issue-wise, is not gay marriage (old news, very 1980s) but reaching out to "good without God" humanists (strong in Portland -- I'm friends with the current president, Dr. DiNucci (wave)).  How few overt atheists make it to public office is suggestive of a bigotry that excites our civil rights defending proclivities, with which proclivities Quakers are well endowed.  "Atheism is the new 'gay marriage'" a slogan Bill Mahrer has been touting (I'd say effectively).

Also these days, as I alluded to above, we're looking at accepting our Quaker past as including some complicity in a kind of cultural imperialism we today regret.  It's not just about "the Underground Railroad" when it comes to Liberal Meeting kid programs, any more.  Relations with tribes post Civil War until our own time is newly front and center.  Why? 

Because these peoples still live right up the street from us, our geographically close.  Some people, especially east coasters, think of Native Americans mostly in the past tense.  That's not what history is showing us. 

NPYM might well have an Annual Session at a tribal resort facility some day, why not?  Kah Nee Tah is family friendly (that's the Warm Springs place).  Sure there's gambling going on (in other rooms) but Catholics play bingo don't they?  I'm not the only one considering this proposal -- the main barrier is probably cost.

This conversation about the law and the process whereby lands came to be claimed, cultures co-opted, is an ecumenical movement, centered around the Doctrine of Discovery and its repudiation, you're probably familiar with it.[1]

Here's a snapshot from our Multnomah Meeting bulletin board take just today in fact.[2]  The Parliament of World Religions has been involved (they just met this October, in Salt Lake City).[3]  Our family has served as Quaker delegates in the past (Cape Town, 1999).

The Bible itself does not say "go out there and use me as proof that you should lord it over the Native Americans" i.e. it doesn't really give specific instructions like that, as the good Rabbi points out.  The slaves always took it to be saying they'd one day be free, whereas slave-owners tended towards a different interpretation.[4]

Even if the Bible is the Word of God (for the sake of argument), that doesn't necessarily help if a priest (not himself the Bible) then tells us how to interpret it "for our time".  Even if the Bible is inerrant, encoding all manner of wisdom, the decodings get garbled and errors creep in at the point of application.  Those telling us what to think are themselves not infallible.  I've already fulminated at length about those who claim to interpret the Book of Revelation.  As a Quaker, I'm not beholden to some authority structure that requires me to buy such by-others prophetic remarks -- not without testing, experimentation, and perhaps verification on my end (some prophets survive the test of time, I admit).

Quakers were among those first to cut out the middleman and say "no more secondhand God for me!"  I link them to American Transcendentalists for that attitude.  Saying we have no priests means each one of us is free to choose teachers, be they Roshis, Rabbis or whatever.  But that's not "in lieu of" the direct relationship.  We're free to read wisdom in the Bible without having it handed to us by those supposedly "more in the know".

[1]  http://mybizmo.blogspot.com/2015/11/storybook-nation.html

[2] https://flic.kr/p/AtDLP9

[3]  http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/parliament/salt-lake-2015/majo...

[4]  Irons, Charles, F.  The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia.  University of North Carolina Press.  Chapel Hill, 2008.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 7:00pm

Atheist Society of Spiritually-Challenged Practitioners of Goodstuff? Doesn't appeal to me, somehow. Something seems to be missing... merely that G-word that offends people so? -- or would it be the sense that spiritual reality matters, can be known; can befriend us to the world's great benefit?


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